Food-aroma classes, anyone?
March 21, 2010 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Is there such thing as an aroma class, for recognizing component aromas in food and spices?

I've been reading through the wonderful tome that is On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee, and all the way through his discussions of various ingredients, he mentions many of the key volatile aroma compounds that together create our world of smell and taste, and shows how the reason why many foods go with certain spices is because many of these compounds overlap between various foods.

I've found this simply fascinating, and I'd love to develop a better sense of what it is I'm smelling and tasting when I bite into this or that thing, and I think it would make be a better cook. Is there such a thing as an aroma class? (I've seen some hits on Google for wine aroma classes. I'm not a big wine fan at the moment [although maybe I would be after one of these classes!], so I'd be more interested in something food-specific if it exists)

Bonus if such a class could be found in the Los Angeles area, but I'd mostly love to know if this exists at all, and if so, where?
posted by sdis to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not sure what McGee means by "overlaps" in this context but to make any sense of the molecular basis of aroma you will need a strong chemistry background. You could pursue this in a psychology/neurochemistry program (study of perception) or in a food science program (focus on the food). Chapman University has a food science program.
posted by Fiery Jack at 6:20 AM on March 21, 2010


Even if you aren't a huge wine fan the wine aroma type classes may be worth taking a look at. In my wine appreciation class in college we spent a day learning about flavors and smells though tasting different fruits, cheeses, and spices so we could recognize them when we encountered them in the different wines.

For home study they also sell wine aroma kits which come with a number of different vials of extracts and scents to again help you learn the different flavors you tend to fine in wines.
posted by Captain_Science at 7:45 AM on March 21, 2010


Fiery Jack: While he does mention flavor overlaps, like the piney terpene notes that are in both carrots and mediterranean herbs, I'll write out a quote to describe what I'm really after:

speaking of herbs/spices: "..often it's the mixture that creates the character, and that makes a spice well suited to serve as a unifying bridge among several different ingredients. Coriander seed, for example, is simultaneously flowery and lemony; bay leaf combines eucalyptus, clove, pine and flowery notes. It can be fascinating–and useful-to taste spices analytically, trying to perceive the separate components and how their flavors are built..."
posted by sdis at 9:59 AM on March 21, 2010


I think the closest you will get is a discipline of sensory analysis called descriptive profiling. The idea is you are trained to split up your perception of a flavor into weights of various descriptors. So if you were trying to describe coriander you might say it has a flowery note and a lemony note (plus probably several others). An individual, or better a group, trained to study coriander would be able to say for one variety the flower note is 8/10 and the lemon note is 5/10 while another variety would have different weights. Different types of foods have different descriptors that are widely used but they don't necessarily have a strong molecular basis, e.g., in coriander the flower note is unlikely to be due to a single type of molecule. The notes are better as seen easily recognized and communicated heuristics.

A good start would be to pick a few simple foods that you have access to a wide variety of (coffee, wine, chocolate) and try to build a vocabulary of taste to describe the differences. Wine tasters use this lot but they, are often a little prescriptive and judgmental (surely you can recognize the gooseberry note in this wine?). You may find it more educational to pick another food without a familiar vocabulary and build your own. Try to separate out effects like color and texture and concentrate just on the flavor. Try to communicate your descriptions to a friend and see if they agree.
posted by Fiery Jack at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2010


I think you need a culinary flavors sensory development kit.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


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